HONOLULU – The consummate Auburn superfan, Jason Dufner didn’t attend some lavish party or hit up a local sports bar for Monday night’s BCS Championship Game. Instead, he watched in his hotel room at the Ritz-Carlton Kapalua with wife Amanda, intent on catching every second of the contest. True to his low-key nature, when the Tigers lost in the final seconds he didn’t yell or throw things or trash the room.
“It’s just kind of like I do with golf,” he said. “You take about 20-30 minutes and then get over it and take a shower and get ready for bed.”
Actually, he did one other thing, too.
He gave a pep talk to Auburn coach Gus Malzahn.
“I talked to him right after the game, and I’ve talked to him a couple times since,” he confided. “Just trying to be encouraging because they were pretty down about how the game ended, disappointed. It's hard [when] you have such a great season. I know all those guys, and the coaches felt they were going to win that game.”
If it sounds backward for the laconic golfer to be offering a rah-rah speech to the football coach, well, that’s for good reason.
But in some ways, it also makes perfect sense.
Dufner is fond of reminding anyone who will listen that winning 1 or 2 percent of your starts at the highest level of professional golf will likely result in a Hall of Fame induction someday. It’s something he’s reminded Malzahn about over the past few days.
“I’ve got a lot of experience with failure out here,” explained Dufner, who has three wins in 199 previous PGA Tour starts. “I told him to take it from a guy who loses way more than he wins. You'll get over it and learn from it and you'll be better because of it.”
He also feels a certain responsibility to get his alma mater back on the winning track. The day after his football team’s loss, Dufner posted a series of tweets in which he wrote, “Disappointment and heartache are always part of sports. ... In times of defeat I have always learned more about myself and what it takes to win at a high level. ... My chance for redemption and reward starts this week.”
Dufner started that chance for Auburn redemption with a 3-under 67 at the Sony Open, leaving him in solid position after the opening round.
Not that he was overly enthused about it.
“I drove it bad, pretty lucky to shoot the score I did,” he admitted. “I had a good week last week. I hit it really good. Played a little bit better on the last day, so feeling good, and then today just couldn’t get it going.”
Any football coach can understand an inability to “get it going,” especially one whose defense struggled to stop Florida State’s offense during the final drive of that game. The comparison ends, though, when you consider Dufner’s chances at a victory are seemingly endless, while his team is left to ponder its defeat for the next eight months.
“They’ll get over it once they get back into their off-season routine,” he said. “It's easy for us. Like I said, we just have another week. Next week is right around the corner. But they've got to wait until September.”
There’s still time for Dufner to put an Auburn victory on the board – and despite underwhelming himself during the opening round, his score has him right in the mix for that possibility come Sunday afternoon.
While he obviously wasn’t part of the team that lost on Monday – though he did offer a midseason locker room speech that appeared to rally the players – this is part of what Dufner termed the “chance for redemption and reward” in those tweets.
So far he’s been able to help by speaking with Malzahn, relating his personal failures in golf and encouraging the coach to keep pushing forward.
“This is just the beginning of what he has in plan for Auburn football,” Dufner said. “This is just all part of it.”
Pep talks are one thing. Dufner knows, though, if he really wants to cheer up War Eagle Nation after its recent loss, the best thing he can do this week is the one thing his team came agonizingly short of accomplishing on Monday night.
Win the title.